DESIRE

 

desire

“Desire” can be a very loaded word in terms of literary theory. One must examine both the body and soul in relation to imperfections. A most basic definition of “desire” comes from the realization that something is missing. When one has a need or want, the need/want relates to that feeling of absence or being “without.” Desire is the result of a persistent feeling being kept in check by routine or consciousness.

In Aristotle, desire is figured as that which persists between the natural and the psychic domains, mediated by an ethos or a domain of regularly practiced habits” (376).

Plato declared the “body emerges from desire.”  Socrates defended further, “this procreation is the union of man and woman and is a divine thing; for conception and generation are an immortal principle in the mortal creature” (372).  Therefore, even procreation was explained as a spiritual part of human nature; a spiritual desire.  There is a desire to create souls more souls. We could also read the above quote more literally. People desire other people persae, the desire to find and create “the beautiful.” They desire to love, which is both a spiritual and physical desire. I would agree that the concept of finding “the beautiful” applies to literature. Judith Butler states:

Desire of the beautiful requires that writing exceed its own constraints, to present what is “beyond” the world by and through the word” (374).

Some gender driven questions concerning desire…

  • Is desire to create “the beautiful” during procreation a masculine concept while the woman is the “passive” object of that beauty?
  • If so, are we still to assume homo-eroticism is a main explanation for desire?
  • Is desire a merely a masculine characteristic?
  • Is a woman less feminine if she has feelings of desire?
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CANON

There are many definitions pertaining to the term “canon,” most of which are related to a pattern of formula. In terms of English Studies, the pattern reflects a biblical sense of “canon.” This type of canon is taken as rule or law; in other words, required attention to certain patterns. These laws/patterns became the biblical books we have come to know in religion. They have been revered as a form of higher truth.

Great Literature

Canonization: the selection of what are conventionally called the “classics,” selected and respected over time as a respected pattern of literature.

The original “canonizers” decided what pieces from the bible were the most beneficial for Christians to read, regardless of their universal appeal or aesthetics. The books were chosen to promote certain standards and interpretations for the religious community.  Intellectuals in the English community organized a literature canon in a similar way.  The works  commonly studied in secondary and higher education have been standardized through this canon, which begs the following questions:

Were there more writers that could have been classics if not for the focus on white males?

Were minorities literate enough to contribute to a classical canon; what are the causes and effects of this?

Could we successfully organize a separate canon for different social groups?

Could this separated canon ever be equal?

Therefore, English intellectuals of today must question the traditional canon. We must challenge the definition of what makes a piece of literature “worth” reading. For that matter, we must question our own authority over this process. Are intellectuals fit to organize a canon, and how permanent should the canon be?

Will the work of Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling reach the timelessness of William Shakespeare?

CULTURE

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The term “culture” is widely used in both the professional and personal discourse. Because the word is used so often and refers to many different aspects of humanity, literary critic and theorist Stephen Greenblatt suggests that “culture” has lost it’s meaning. In terms of literary criticism, some appropriate cultural  questions might be:

 

Why is this piece interesting?

What kinds of behavior does this piece support?

What kind of values does this piece support and do they align with my own?

Therefore, a proper cultural analysis of literature depends on the understanding a work and the culture with which that work represents. The learning is equal and dependent between the text and its context. In this way, literature and culture shift to compliment each other. Better yet, the literature is written to be a “structure of limits [and] the regulator and guarantor of movement” (228).  There is a certain social commentary in literature that depicts the many patterns of people in a culture. More specifically, “The novel had been particularly sensitive to the diverse ways in which individuals come to terms with the governing patterns of culture” (229), This justification is logical if the reader takes note of moments in history, present day and possibly the future in terms of textual interpretation.

INTERPRETATION

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What does it mean?

What is Interpretation? 

When one hears the word “interpretation,” what definitions come to mind? I initially assumed that “to interpret” meant “to translate” language or to break down a concept into simpler terms. In literary study, the definition is much more expansive. Rather than simplify concepts, interpretations often complicate expansively.

In it’s etymology… ‘interpretation’ [directs understanding] toward a text is to be interpreted to and for an audience in need of interpretation.”

Let translate this quotation from Critical Terms for Literary Study, edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin.  An interpretation is specific to the audience seeking that interpretation. The wording above is a tad misleading, because the phrase “interpreted to and for” insinuates that a higher being should guide all translation. However, because each audience is unique to learning strategies, patterns of reasoning, and goals for interpretation, the only beings qualified to interpret meaning are part of the specific audience in question.  If the audience is using appropriate reasoning strategies as such, the interpretation gained is “correct” for that situation.

Interpretations are not limited to textual documents. Anything essence that requires one to find meaning also requires active interpretation.  Such interpretations may come from a poem, novel, political document, television show, film, commercial, or idea).  Because interpretations are personal to each “reader,” the personal strategies used to gain such interpretations then give a certain meaning to the original “text.” Therefore, a text does not have meaning until one formulates an interpretation of it.

Formalist criticism argues against this theory, giving high importance to author intention and universal meaning. For example, such a critic would support that Chaucer created the Wife of Bath to represent a particular type of woman (that she was written as a mockery of women).  The problem with this theory is that readers can’t always interview an author about his or her intentions. Furthermore, even if author is interviewed, a separate interpretation should not be considered invalid, because the reader has come to an understanding because of the writing, rather than the author’s intention.

Extended Thoughts: 

To approach the how of interpreting… you may interpret the text with history or allegory (or both). You may place the text in a historical setting to to specify meaning, or you can take the meaning as universal.

Now I’m reminded of politics after reading the Huckleberry Finn and ABM treaty excerpts and explanations. This also brings to mind discussions I’ve been having about the President’s Speech on the anniversary of the march on Washington. Past intentions can construe present meanings based on persuasion and recent events. I believe nothing can ever be fully interpreted when politics are concerned because the details are always changing.